Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on July 31, 2019
Jean Greenberg still remembers that day, 30 years later. She was at the closing on her apartment in the 84-unit co-op on Draper Lane in Dobbs Ferry, when her broker turned to her and said, “Oh, by the way, the co-op board just imposed an assessment on all shareholders.”
“That was quite a shock,” recalls Greenberg, “and I almost backed out of the deal. I didn’t want that to happen again.”
It hasn’t happened again. Greenberg joined the five-member co-op board 10 years after moving in and has served as president since 2014. At that time, the cost of No. 2 heating oil was falling, and Greenberg, still remembering that shocker assessment, saw to it that the board continued to impose small annual maintenance increases – and funneled all savings on heating oil into the reserve fund.
“Having a cushion can come in very handy,” says Greenberg, 70, who is co-owner of a children's consignment shop in Dobbs Ferry. That cushion came in handy two years ago when an emergency Con Edison gas shutdown forced the board to replace all gas risers in the co-op’s two low-rise, post-war brick buildings. The surprise $130,000 job was covered by the reserve fund. The co-op’s property manager, David Guerrero of Garthchester Realty, offers this rationale for keeping a healthy reserve fund: “Something bad is always going to happen that you didn’t plan for.”
Today, the reserve fund is paying for half of a major $330,000 window replacement project. The other half is coming from an assessment that is not a shock, but rather the result of careful planning and regular communication with shareholders, more than half of them elderly. The assessments, depending on the size of the apartment, range from $1,200 to $2,500, and they can be paid in a lump sum or over the course of one or two years.
The window job has been in the works for years. Last replaced in the 1980s, the metal-framed windows were admitting drafts, which required extra heat in north-facing apartments, which in turn led to overheating – and wasted money – throughout the rest of the co-op. Last year, the board whittled down a list of prospective contractors and suppliers, then called them in for interviews.
“The board was very interested in how they would handle our elderly population,” says Guerrero. Adds Greenberg, “For our elderly shareholders, it’s disruptive having workers come into their homes, so we wanted to make sure the contractor we chose was sensitive to people’s concerns.”
Once the contractor and supplier were chosen, it was time to schedule the work. The board hired two temporary workers to complement its two-man staff – and make sure that a co-op employee is present during every installation, which is completed in about three hours. “We kept people informed,” says Greenberg. “Once the windows were on the way, we found out when shareholders would be available to have workers come into their apartments. The work is kind of scary. They pull out the old windows.”
The new windows have vinyl frames and double panes to improve insulation and lower heating costs. “They’re much easier to open and clean than the old windows,” Guerrero says. The last of the 786 windows will be replaced by the end of the summer. Though there has been some inevitable grumbling over the inconvenience of such an invasive project, there have no complaints that anyone was shocked – or even surprised.
“We do it by planning ahead,” says Greenberg. “When we know a big project is coming, we try to put money aside. And with the gas risers, we got lucky. It’s better to be ready for things than to let things bite you.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – CONTRACTOR: American Architectural Windows. MANUFACTURER: Crystal Window & Door Systems. PROPERTY MANAGER: Garthchester Realty.
Thinking of buying a co-op or condo? Already bought, and not sure how co-op/condo life and rules work? Learn all about purchasing a place and living in your new community. It's not like renting, and its not like owning a house. What's it like?